Getting the right tone from the top

The best established mantra about successful D&I work refers to executive leadership, role modelling and to sponsoring D&I departments and agendas. And the absence of this has become an easy excuse when progress becomes slow. That implies two questions: Who is responsible for providing the impetus so that top management support will be displayed and what does effective patronage look like?

If we like it or not: It is clearly us, the Diversity experts, who have to deliver the kind of compelling information to executive leadership teams that will steer them to taking the right decisions. And we have to present it in a an effective way so that they can see the scope and implications, and appreciate their personal role going forward. Obviously, this is not easy in an environment where politicians, the Media and interest groups all contribute their perspectives. Also, decision makers’ personal sentiments, values and preferences serve as a critical (in every sense of the word) backdrop against which D&I will be reflected. Taking all this into account should tell us that we can’t simply combine blue-print information from around the web, include a few anecdotes and wrap it up with generic phrases about workforce, workplace, marketplace, awareness, sponsoring (of course we don’t say mentoring anymore) and governance. Instead, we have to take ourselves and the key stakeholders through a journey of asking the right questions and listening carefully to understand how the organisation and its leaderstick – from a business perspective. And yes, this must happen at the beginning of each strategy cycle and not just once when the D&I process is first started.

The story we have to tell must balance and connect the cornerstones of measurable targets, structural aspects, stakeholder engagement and of course business priorities in an overall change framework incorporating the complexity of organisational, cultural and personal change. Hence, our presentation will accurately describe the journey of the organisation that lies ahead and how important specific aspects of engagement at the top will be or become: Ongoing involvement in discussion, priority setting, cascading accountability (and follow up on this), piloting new ways of working (and leading), and visibly rewarding those that actively contribute to the change agenda. We should know that we ask a lot from people who are used to delegating tasks and manage by numbers (mainly). Again, it is us who must provide the guidance through a combination of evidence and inspiration.